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Marburg in Germany - Cultural and Travel Guide of a Fairy Tale Town

Updated: May 10




Marburg - View of Schuhmarkt


Half-timbered houses, cobbled streets and a medieval castle: Marburg is the quintessential destination for every fan of the more remote and romantic past of Germany, but it also has a rich and interesting history worth exploring!


Mesmerizing in winter and relaxing in summer, the Hessian city of Marburg is a university town that can be visited on a day trip or while traveling through the German Fairy Tale Route. Here is a complete cultural and travel guide to discover it and spend some quality time strolling around its streets (and stairs!).


 

In this article:


Marburg: What and How
Marburg: Cultural Tour
Marburg: Eat & Explore
Marburg: What's Next


 


Marburg: What and How



1. WHERE IS MARBURG AND HOW TO REACH IT


The medium-sized Marburg (it counts about 75000 inhabitants) is located in Hesse, one of Germany's federal states, in the middle-west side of the country.


Flanked by the river Lahn, Marburg is renewed for its university and is a popular destination for anyone traveling through the Fairy Tale Route or coming from Frankfurt, the capital of Hesse, which is 1 hour by car or train from Marburg.




➊ By car: Marburg can be reached from Frankfurt in 1 hour by car, 1h20 from Mainz, 1h15 from Darmstadt, 1h20 from Kassel, 2h from Bonn.


➊ By train: Marburg is well-served by the Deutsche Bahn, the national railways of Germany, tickets to Marburg Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) can be bought online from the official website. To/from Frankfurt is a 1 hour-journey that costs 10€+, to/from Mainz is 2 hours and costs ca. 20€, to/from Kassel is ca. 1h30 and can cost either 20 or 30€, to/from Bonn is 3-4 hours and costs 27€+.

You can also check Trainline, a useful tool that will automatically suggest you the best options among trains and buses (which in Germany are pretty common and reliable).



2. USEFUL INFO


Marburg is a typical German town and all recommendations valid for the country apply here as well. Anyway, here are a few important pieces of information and answers to some of the most common questions you may have:


➊ How much time should you spend in Marburg? I visited the city in one day and I think it is enough to fully enjoy it. The historical city center is all ups and downs and seeing it all (count a couple of breaks to catch your breath), plus visiting the main sites (Elisabethkirche, Landgrafenschloss, etc) will take you a few hours, so I would not suggest adding another stop to the same day. Instead, you may plan to spend one night in town, taking it slow and exploring the outskirts (if summer) or the Christmas market (if winter).


➊ When is the best time to visit Marburg? Like every other small urban center, Marburg is easily enjoyable any time of the year, but summer and November/December are probably the best moments. Summers are tepid in Germany, never too hot, so traveling through the country in June-August is always a very good idea. Otherwise, wintertime in Germany means Christmas markets and Christmassy vibes, and Marburg hosts a nice market from late November till late December. I was there during this time and I really liked the atmosphere - it never gets too crowded (like for example Nurnberg or Cologne).


➊ Is Marburg worth a spot in your itinerary? If you are based in Frankfurt, Mainz or in any other city in central or western Germany, Marburg is definitely worth a day of your life. Its Old Town and main church alone are enough to justify a visit and if you go there in winter you will likely enjoy a more tranquil Christmas atmosphere. If planning your stops on the Fairy Tale Route, Marburg is no doubt one I would keep for its artistic and historic significance and for the impact the Grimm Brothers have left on it. If you come from further away or have only a few days to spend in Germany, you may decide to skip Marburg and focus on other centers.


➊ Is Marburg accessible or a good option if traveling with kids? Marburg is maybe not too easily accessible, especially with wheelchairs, because it can be very steep. However, there are good alternatives to staircases and elevators are available throughout the city and Marburg is renowned for its excellent tools for blind people. It's definitely a perfect destination for children though, considering its many projects about the Brothers Grimm and their Fairy Tales! Expect your kids to get a bit tired after a day of all ups and downs.


➊ Options for guided tours of the city: If you decide to spend one full day in Marburg you may have enough time to take a walking tour across the city, which may be great considering the intricate and interesting history it has. Here are a few examples of tours you can purchase online: GetYourGuide, Viator, or you can check with the Tourist Information Center for local options (they will no doubt speak English).



3. HISTORY OF MARBURG


The very first traces of settlement in the area that today is Marburg date back to the Ice Age, more than 50.000 years ago. However, it was only during the Middle Ages that the city as we imagine it was founded, and the first documented mention we have of it is from 1138/39.


The city started to develop spontaneously, likely because the newly built castle (the Langrafenschloss) began attracting new residents. In fact, castles of that kind, where armed nobles or landlords used to live, were seen as a defence measure by peasants, who would have been otherwise at the mercy of soldiers or ill-intentioned travelers. This first phase continued until the mid-13th century, and Marburg grew to become a small city with its own market, the main streets and buildings popping up around the castle and on the hill it topped.


Everything changed when the Landgravine Elisabeth of Thuringia (1207-1231) chose Marburg and its castle as her residence for her widow years. The Landgravine, who today is venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church, left her mark on Marburg, becoming the most important figure to be ever connected to the city. After she moved there in 1228 she founded a hospital for the sick and the poor along with a chapel, and worked hard on charity and assistance. When she died in 1231, aged 24, her sanctity was considered undisputable and she was consecrated the year after, in 1235.


Saints attract pilgrims and pilgrims always come in huge crowds, bringing what we could compare to a today's tourist economic flow. The city benefitted a great deal from St. Elisabeth's cult and saw its territories expanded under the supervision of the Teutonic Order.


However, a city - just like today - could not live on tourism (ops, pilgrimage) only, and politics were a lot involved too. Soon after the death of Elisabeth, who died Landgravine of Thuringia with no male sons, a war of succession began, and it only ended when her daughter, Sophie of Brabant, successfully imposed her 4-year-old son as the new Landgrave. This time, she wanted the Landgraviate to be based in Marburg, her mother's city, and the Landgrave was then called of Hesse.


A Landgrave, an entity typical of the Holy Roman Empire (precursor of modern Germany), can be compared to a count. Title first used in the 11th century, the Landgrave was a noble with great powers, normally given to him or her by the Emperor himself. Landgraves controlled vast territories within modern Germany on behalf of the Emperor and their power was not subject to intermediaries, therefore leaving them with great influence. The Landgraviate of Thuringia first, and that of Hesse later were among the most powerful in the Empire during the Middle Ages.

Despite having been recognized by the Emperor, the new Landgraviate was soon divided in two, leaving the territories with two capitals, Marburg and Kassel. Unfortunately, the proximity to Kassel would influence the role of Marburg, often diminishing its importance.


The conflicts would repeat intermittently throughout the years, and the city would also get half destroyed during a terrible fire in 1319 and its population decimated by the plague in 1348/49. Anyway, a game changer for Marburg was Philip I the Magnanimous (1504-1567), who in 1527 decided to found the first ever Protestant university and call it after himself, Philipps-Universität.


As for pilgrimage, a university also worked as a stimulus for foreigners to move to a city, and from that moment it will represent the most important development factor for Marburg, although it did not always have many enrolled students.


Starting from the 17th century and the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), Marburg was frequently attacked and ransacked, and also suffered the comparison to Kassel. It was not until the mid-19th century that, thanks to its university, it could flourish again.


Despite having played a major role in persecuting and condemning Jews and non-Germans during the Nazi era, the city was basically spared from the airstrikes that hit Germany in 1945. Thus, today Marburg is known as a university town but is also a great destination for culture and history buffs as its Altstadt, the Old Town, was nicely restored from 1972 onwards and its historical attractions survived the storm of time almost intact.



Marburg, Germany, view and Landgrafenschloss
Marburg with a view of its hilltop castle


4. THE PHILIPPS-UNIVERSITÄT


We mentioned before that Marburg is considered a university town, and the University itself has been the main reason for the economic and social development of the city.


The Philipps-Universität has a long history, as it was founded by Landgrave Philip I the Magnanimous in 1527, a very peculiar moment in time. In those years, Martin Luther was spreading his ideas for a new, reformed church, igniting a movement that was indeed to be called Reformation and that would lead to the creation of Protestantism.


Germany, the homeland of Martin Luther, was one of the first places (not a nation yet) to convert to Protestantism through its nobles, Philip I included. This is why, when he founded the university in Marburg, it became one of the very first Protestant universities in the world.


Almost as a mockery to the Catholic Church, now despised, Philip I set the original headquarters of the university in what is now called the Alte Universität (Old University), a building that has been there since 1291 and that used to host Franciscan friars.


Today, the Philipps University counts some 23500 students and 7500 employees - numbers that for a city with a population of 75000 sound incredible. Students can be seen everywhere around the city, and many rent flats or rooms in the Altstadt. They actually follow the lead of a few of the notable alumni that preceded them: Giordano Bruno, Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, José Ortega y Gasset, T. S. Eliot and Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm among them!


The house where Jacob Grimm rented a room is still visible today, we will get there later!




 



Marburg: Cultural Tour



1. FULL ITINERARY


Marburg is not overly famous as a tourist destination, but I am sure it will surprise you. When I visited it I had honestly never heard of it before and, as of today, it is still one of the nicest towns I have seen in Germany - rich in history and so well curated!


There are several things to check in the city but most can be seen while walking through the Old Town. Only a few will take you some more time - Elisabethkirche, Landgrafenschloss, the Botanical Garden - but I promise it will be definitely worth it!


Here below is an interactive map where you can check everything I am going to mention here and also includes a few places where to eat:




Imagining that many of you might choose to reach Marburg by train, the itinerary I am suggesting here starts from the city's main station (called Marburg Hauptbahnhof/Marburg Lahn) and follows the most convenient way from there. Of course, you are free to choose whatever path you prefer, to skip or add something!


Also, note that since most of Marburg's main attractions are all very close to each other, this is supposed to be a walking tour - I will add distances so you may decide what is best for you.


Total Duration: around 1 day


Starting from the main station, you shall take Bahnhofstraße and walk your way straight until you meet Elisabethstraße. Take this one on the left and you should soon see Elisabethkirche, our first stop (total distance: 750m / 0,46mi, 11 min). Elisabethkirche is one of the main attractions in Marburg and the oldest Gothic cathedral in Germany, it is definitely worth a visit inside - scroll down to learn more and find out what to check there.


Once you are done with the church, cross the street and look for a small country chapel (total distance: 140m / 460ft). It's St. Michaels Kapelle and its story will fascinate you - find it here.


Time to move to the Oberstadt (Upper Town)! Go back to Elisabethstraße and continue from there until it becomes Pilgrimstein, walk straight then turn right on Zwischenhausen and immediately left on Steinweg. On your way, you should see the ruins of the hospital founded by St. Elisabeth in the 13th century. Continue on Steinweg you will soon meet the Wasserscheide (watershed) with the statue of "Christian", the last luggage carrier of Marburg. You are entering the Oberstadt/Altstadt (total distance: 500m / 0,3mi, 9 min) - scroll down to discover what you can see here and keep at least 2 hours to visit it all! The best way to do it is to simply stroll around it and keep your nose up for the many sites you might encounter.


While in the Altstadt you may opt for a quick lunch in the area, choosing between the many traditional cuisine options that these streets offer - you can learn more about local traditions down below.


After a good lunch you should have enough energy to climb your way to the Landgrafenschloss or Marburg Castle - start from here (in front of the Lutheran Church) and you will get to the top (total distance: 270m / 885ft, 5 min). It's a bit steep but worth it, however, there are other options to get there. You can find them all down below, along with more info about the castle itself.


On top of the hill is the Bückingsgarten, basically within the castle's garden. Here you can rest after the climb and the visit, or you can decide to go back to the Old Town and drink or eat something in one of the many cafés.


At this point, our day in Marburg is reaching its end but there is still something worth visiting:


Spiegelslustturm, Marburg
Spiegelslustturm

  • Once back in the Old Town, if the view from the Schloss did not satisfy you or you wish to have a full glance at the city with its castle, you can head to the Spiegelslustturm, a tower located at a height of 36m. It can be reached on foot (total distance: ca. 2km / 1,24mi, 35min) through a nice stroll in the woods, or you can catch a bus (directions here) to save some energy. Built between 1887 and 1890, this tower is a symbol of the Romantic era in Marburg and was commissioned by Werner von Spiegel so that everyone could admire the city in its entirety and romantically phantasize of it. Today, it hosts a homonymous restaurant/café and a cultural center and if you visit it you can have one of the best views of Marburg. It closes at 19 and the entrance to the tower itself costs 1€ or 0,60€ for children.

  • If one view of Marburg was enough and you are craving some nature, you can opt for the Botanischer Garten (Botanical Garden), especially if your visit happens in summer. Arriving there from the Altstadt on foot is more difficult but not impossible (total distance: 4km / 2,50mi, 1h), otherwise buses will take you there. Established in 1879 and directly linked to the university, to which it provides scientific research support, the Garden is the perfect choice if you are looking for a nature gateway or a few hours of complete rest. And with its 10 hectares / 25 acres, the Botanischer Garten also offers great insights about plants, their diversity and history. The Garden is best visited in spring or summer, since from November to March it closes at 4PM, April-October at 6PM, and always opens at 9AM. A fee is charged to access it, 5€ for adults, 3€ reduced.



Elisabethkirche in Marburg
Elisabethkirche in Marburg


2. ELISABETHKIRCHE


Opening Hours: November-March open daily 10AM to 4PM / April-September open daily 9AM to 6PM / October open daily 9AM to 5PM

Ticket: free entry up to the choir screen - 1€ for the burials and shrine

Visit Duration: 1 hour

Important Note: Restorations works are currently undergoing and they may hamper your visit! If in Marburg, it is still totally worth it to visit the church nevertheless.


The oldest purely Gothic cathedral of Germany, inspired by the many French models around - this is what you are looking at when at Elisabethkirche in Marburg. The more famous cathedral of Cologne would take over from here.


This majestic church was built from 1235, the year of Elisabeth of Thuringia's canonization. As we mentioned, Elisabeth was a young widow and Landgravine of Thuringia when she moved to Marburg in 1228, dying here in 1231 at the age of 24 after years spent taking care of the sick and poor. In that brief time in Marburg she collaborated closely with the Franciscan friars and founded a hospital and a chapel, which activities will continue after her earthly departure.


Her sanctity immediately got hit and pilgrims started to come to a city that was however not ready to welcome them in great numbers. At this point, the Teutonic Order took charge of the situation, dismantled the original Franciscan hospital and decided to build over it a magnificent church that could host Elisabeth's remains and the pilgrims. The Order was able to do so thanks to its close relationship with the Landgraves, some of whom were members of the Order themselves.

The Teutonic Order (in German: Deutschorden, literally German Order) is a religious institution, originally founded in 1190 as a military society. Initially created to organize and gather soldiers and resources to fight Crusades against infidels in the Holy Land, as many other societies of this kind the Teutonic Order gradually became involved more in charitable work than in military actions, hiding behind good purposed and aid to actually exercise power on vast territories, pilgrimage centers, and more in the German area. After turning Protestant in the 16th century to save itself from oblivion, the Order is today once again Catholic.

The cathedral was consecrated in 1283, although construction works continued until 1330 (for the towers). It gained such importance as to be considered worthy of becoming the burial site of the Landgraves of Hesse until the mid-16th century, when Marburg turned Protestant and the cult of relics and of saints stopped. At that point, much of the opulent interior decorations was removed, walls whitewashed and the cathedral followed the lead of Marburg and headed to a general decline.


Damaged during the Thirty Years' War and by a flood in 1847, it survived the WWII bombings and today welcomes visitors from all over the world, still able to amaze thanks to its incredible structure and treasures kept inside.


Architecture and Exterior

Located north of the Old Town, Elisabethkirche is an imposing cross-shaped, three-aisled hall church. Built in sandstone, its towers reach 80m / 262ft of height.


Looking at the façade and the portals, we recognize the typical characteristics of Gothic style. On the main portal, made in 1270, we can see depictions of Mary - to whom the church was officially dedicated - and the cross pattée, the symbol of the Teutonic Order.



Interior


When we enter from the portal we see a central nave separated from the two laterals by rows of columns decorated with leaves and buds, along with depictions of Elisabeth, her husband and Mary in the keystones.


If we look towards the end of the main nave we see a choir barrier (built to impede the access of pilgrims and regular believers to the most sacred parts of the church), behind it are some of the cathedral's treasures.


Here is what to check once inside:


  • STAINED-GLASS WINDOWS: what remains of the medieval stained-glass windows is located in the high choir, behind the high altar. Windows of this kind used to cover most of the walls but, after the cathedral turned Protestant and the Thirty Years' War damaged the church, the survivors were collected here. Focus on the so-called "Elisabeth window": it shows the saint's deeds and scenes of her life, together with depictions of St. Francis and Biblical scenes.

  • ST. ELISABETH'S MAUSOLEUM: the mausoleum of St. Elisabeth is located on the left arm of the cross-shaped church. It was built in the 1280s on the exact place where her first tomb in the Franciscan chapel used to be. The function of this mausoleum was likely that of preserve and isolate the place that originally hosts the saint's remains and that was therefore to be considered forever sacred. its decorations date back to the 13th or the 14th century, including floral motives, scenes from Elisabeth's life, her Heavenly triumph and more. The sarcophagus was crafted in the mid-14th century and shows Elisabeth lying-in-state.

Elisabeth's shrine inside the church, Marburg
Elisabeth's shrine inside the church

  • ST. ELISABETH'S SHRINE: to reach this impressive golden shrine you have to go back to the main nave, reach the high altar and turn left to enter the sacristy. This treasure, which hosts the bones of Elisabeth, is made of oak wood and covered in gilded silver and copper, decorated with pearls and gemstones coming from the Middle East. Unfortunately, since it was often moved over the centuries, many of these precious decorations fell off but is still incredibly impressive and reflects the impellent need of medieval times for people to prove worthy of saints and God's approval through luxury and ostentation. It is house-shaped, broken in the middle by a transept. On the crossbeams is Christ, then Mary, Elisabeth and other figures. On the long sides are the twelve Apostles and scenes of Elisabeth's life.

  • HIGH ALTAR: the high altar lies on the central nave, behind the choir screen and was originally visible only to the priests and nobles. It was made in 1290, in painted sandstone. On the front it shows Mary, Elisabeth, and three saints.

  • CHOIR SCREEN: the choir screen divided the church in two and was originally always closed, except for a few solemn occasions. It was built in 1343 and was initially embellished by 46 stone statues, which however fell victim to the iconoclasm that followed the ascent of Protestantism. Only very few survived, you should be able to see two of them in place, some other remains are visible in Marburg Castle's museum.

Some of the Langraves' burials in Elisabethkirche, Marburg
Some of the Langraves' burials in Elisabethkirche

  • LANDGRAVES' BURIALS: right behind the choir screen, on the right if you come from the main portal, are the burials of the Landgraves of Hesse, who were laid to rest here from 1240 ca. until 1509. It contains epitaphs and high graves (meaning that the actual tomb lies underground), the oldest being that of Conrad of Thuringia (d. 1240), brother-in-law of Elisabeth and probable commissioner of the church itself. He was Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, and this says a lot of the involvement of the Order in Marburg and in Elisabeth's cult.

  • ST. ELISABETH'S ALTAR: once exited the choir from its screen, we can head to the nave on our left and look for this altar, used by the pilgrims during regular days when Elisabeth's shrine was not accessible. It was built in 1294, shows 13th-century paintings plus some 15th and 16th century works presenting the saint's life.



St. Michaels-Kappelle in Marburg
St. Michaels-Kappelle

Bonus: St. Michaels Kappelle

When you are done with your visit, it is worth it to take a look around the cathedral: the historical buildings you see belonged to the Teutonic Order and, together with the cathedral, formed their headquarters.


Moreover, if you cross the street in front of the main portal you should be able to see a small church (actually a chapel) surrounded by a nice garden - it's St. Michaels Kappelle and its story is fascinating.


A Gothic-styled, cemetery chapel, St. Michaels was commissioned by the Teutonic Order in 1270 to celebrate functions in honour of the many pilgrims who, after coming to Marburg ill and hoping to be saved by St. Elisabeth, actually died in the city and needed to be buried. In fact, a baptized Christian is believed to be denied access to Heaven if their body is not buried in consecrated soil (and this is why heretics were not given proper burial).


The graveyard that formed over the decades is still visible, and today is actually the only part of the complex that is accessible to visitors: the chapel is normally closed. It was used to bury pilgrims until 1530 ca. when Marburg turned Protestant and the cult of St. Elisabeth stopped. After that, it was used by the citizens of Marburg and up to 1888.


The oldest gravestone you can spot is dated 1556 and is that of a Marburger: the pilgrims' remains have all been removed over time.




A view of Marburg's Oberstadt
A view of Marburg's Oberstadt


3. THE OBERSTADT


The Altstadt (literally Old Town) of Marburg with its cobbled streets and half-timbered houses is surely the most traditional and historically-pretty area of the city! Sometimes also called Oberstadt (Upper Town), it's indeed steep and all ups and downs (be ready to climb a lot of stairs) because it was the first and oldest portion of the city to develop right around the Landgrafenschloss, under its direct protection.


Exploring the Old Town should really be done at your own pace and there is no specific path you should follow: the best way to go is to simply stroll around the many little streets and stairs, enjoy the view and maybe visit some local restaurants or shops while going. Seeing it all may take you 2 to 4 hours according to what you decide to do (it took me an afternoon).


Here I collected the most significant historical attractions you will encounter during your exploration, with relative addresses (linked on the name) so that you may be sure not to miss anything that interests you - check the above map to create your own itinerary.


Be prepared to see a lot of sculptures around the city that may remind you of some popular fairy tales you know: it's the homage Marburg paid the Brothers Grimm, who studied here. We will mention them later.




The Wasserscheide (watershed) is the very first place I mention here because is one of the main entrances to the Altstadt if coming from Elisabethkirche.


When here, notice that it's where two main streets converge: Renthof and Neustadt. This latter was called like this (New Town) because from here Marburg started its expansion after becoming an important pilgrimage center.


The small statue greeting you is of "Christian", the last luggage carrier (or servant) of Marburg.



Marktplatz with a view of the Town Hall, Marburg
Marktplatz with a view of the Town Hall


The main square of Marburg and the very core of the city is Marktplatz, the market square. This is where market stalls are present every Wednesday and Saturday and where the Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas market) takes place every year!


This square is also known for another reason: according to legend, here is where Sophie of Brabant, daughter of St. Elisabeth, proclaimed her 4-year-old son Landgrave of Hesse, de facto establishing the capital of the new Landgraviate here, in Marburg. The statue of a young lady with a child in her hands is indeed Sophie.


When in the square take a look at the marvelous ancient half-timbered houses and focus on the main building with the clock tower: it's the Rathaus, the town hall of Marburg. Initially built in late Gothic style at the beginning of the 16th century, in 1581 it saw the tower added to its structure, which was considered too simple.



From Marktplatz starts Markt, one of the main streets in the historical city center. On Markt, approximately at number 23, opens the tiny square called Willy-Sage-Platz. Here, you should see a round low structure (an ancient well) and a glass cube - you have reached the medieval synagogue of Marburg.


The remains of this first version of the synagogue date to the 12th century and are among the most ancient in the whole city. Much of what survived is today under the ground level and can be visited with guided tours. On these occasions, you can access the portion of synagogue that lies beneath the glass cube but you can still have a look from outside!



This Gothic sandstone building dates to the 1310s and stands out for not being half-timbered: in fact, Germany was an area where stone was scarce and full-stoney buildings were restricted to churches, castles and important residences. The Steinernes Haus must have been the residence of wealthy aristocrats, probably associated with the Landgraves.


Today, on the protruding side, it hosts a pub: this side originally served as a toilet bay but is of course not in use anymore as such!


5. Kilian


Right behind Marktplatz lies Schuhmarkt (Shoe market), a round square surrounding a former church, today called Kilianskapelle or simply Kilian.


Kilian was one of the very first churches to be built in Marburg and was Romanesque-styled (so preceding Gothic). However, today it might be hard to understand is a church we are looking at: Kilian was built around 1180 and used as a church until the Reformation came. Then, it was suppressed and used for other purposes, the most famous being a shoemaker's guild. Its courtyard notably became a shoe market, giving the name to the square.


Churches were never half-timbered, so focus on the stone portion of it to find the medieval version. Today it is used as a residential building.




Also called Marienkirche, its oldest parts were built in the 1290s well before the Reformation, even though its name (Lutheran parish church) suggests a later conversion.


Originally commissioned by the Teutonic Order, when the city turned Protestant it became the reference point for the converted community.


Although whitewashed as many other Protestant sites, its interior is definitely worth a quick visit!



Wendelgasse is simply one of the most suggestive and panoramic ways up to the castle! It's not the easiest nor the quickest but take it to find yourself surrounded by some of the prettiest half-timbered houses in town!


Also, if here, do not start your climb before noticing the house at the nearby Barfüßerstraße 35: this is where Jacob Grimm used to live when he was studying in Marburg!



Literally round church, the Kugelkirche was built in the late 15th century to host a reformed community of friars who were not Lutheran yet (Martin Luther still had to start protesting).


Founded in 1476, the convent was soon suppressed when the actual Reformation took over and this building, with its spherical structure, was turned into a lecture hall. Today is one of the main Catholic places in Marburg and is dedicated to St. John the Evangelist.




We mentioned this place before - born as a Dominican convent back in 1291, it became the first seat of the Philipps University when the city turned Protestant, convents got suppressed and the Protestant university was founded in 1527 by Philip I.


This building lies at the very extremity of the Altstadt, opposite to our starting point, the Wasserscheide. What we see today is clearly not the work of the late 13th century but is still worth taking a look at!


Remanaged and redone over the centuries, both the main building and the university church have been renovated and recently built in Neo-Gothic style. Today, you can visit the library and access the most ancient rooms, but only with a guided tour.




A view of Marburg Castle
A view of Marburg Castle


4. LANDGRAFENSCHLOSS


Opening Hours: open daily from 10AM to 6PM (summer) or to 4PM (winter) - closed on Mondays

Ticket: 8€ for adults, 5€ reduced - museum of art and cultural history currently closed

Visit Duration: 1 hour

How To Reach: by bus from the train station (line 10), by tourist train (Schlossbahn, meeting point here), on foot (start from Marktplatz and follow the signs, or start from here, or take Wendelgasse)


The Landgrafenschloss (Landgrave's Castle), also called Marburg Castle, is the protagonist of the city's skyline and basically the main reason why Marburg exists.


Initially built around the time when the city was first documented (1138/39), this castle was born as a residence for the Landgraves of Thuringia, who had been attracted by the perfect steep hillsides and the opportunity of expanding a very small market that would later be Marburg. After the castle was built, the small village grew consistently.


The Schloss was originally small and rectangular and was not immediately meant to defend the nobles from sieges or other major attacks, it served more as a way to control the territories. It was later expanded when the Landgraviate of Hesse was founded and the prestige of the residents increased. It was not until the 16th century that the complex was fortified, got its gun towers and became ready to face serious threats.


Amidst the ongoing Reformation that would bring Protestantism all over Europe, in 1529 the castle hosted Martin Luther himself and Ulrich Zwingli during the so-called Marburg Colloquy, in fact a meeting thought to solve a dispute on theological themes that aimed to define the dogmas of the new religion.


During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Schloss did not know much fortune, as it was frequently sieged and partially destroyed during the many attacks Marburg suffered. From 1809 it was even turned into a prison, the Landgraves now long gone and its original purpose no more needed.


Today, what we see is a unique example of a residential-turned-military castle which forms still retain much of the 12th, 14th and especially 13th centuries. The museum is often closed and not always well-organized, also, labels are mainly available in German only, but the complex is still much worth a visit, let's find out why!



What to check at Marburg Castle

I cannot tell you for sure if you are going to find the museum open or closed at the time of your visit - unfortunately, this is very random and when I visited it it was open but many rooms were empty. Anyway, if you got all the way up here, you won't be disappointed.


  • ARCHITECTURE AND EXTERIOR: the castle is actually a horseshoe-shaped complex of buildings surrounding an inner courtyard, with some more recent additions scattered all around. The whole thing is basically a beautiful and rare well-preserved example of secular Gothic architecture.

  • WILHELMBAU (if open): detached from the main structure with its courtyard but attached through a corridor, Wilhelmsbau takes its name from the Landgrave that commissioned its construction, Wilhelm III (1471-1500). Today it houses the Museum and is one of the most recent buildings here.

  • WITCH TOWER: the so-called "witch tower" was actually the first gun tower to be built in the castle when it was upgraded to keep up with new technologies in warfare. It was built in 1478 and later used as a prison and it is said to have hosted a few women accused of using witchcraft and magic.

  • PRINCE HALL (Fürstensaal): the Prince Hall (or Great Hall) is the most significant room of the entire complex and one of the few that still have signs of the original decoration in the form of a precious tapestry depicting Biblical scenes. It was the main hall of the castle, where the Landgraves met their guests and held feasts. It was built at the end of the 13th century.

  • CHAPEL: it was built around the same time as the Prince Hall and served as the private chapel of the Landgraves and their family. Together with the Hall it is the most important room and best preserved space of the complex. When inside, look at the historic floor beneath your feet: it's largely original and made of glazed clay tiles. Parts of the wall decorations are still visible, including paintings.


Fancy visiting the casemates and the 12th-century basements? This is possible during guided tours! Ask the staff for information about possible English tours. I visited the castle with a private tour and it was all in German, but I know sometimes more options are available. Some walking tours may include a visit to the castle but not necessarily entry to the basements. Check here if you know some German.




Cinderella's shoe on the hill side, Marburg
Cinderella's shoe on the hill side


5. IN SEARCH OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM


Many of you probably know Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. They are among the most popular German figures to have ever existed and up to this day their fairy tales have been and are read by millions of children around the world, and the movies they inspired are a full-fledged part of our collective imagination. Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel: these are only a few of our childhood stories that have been written by the Brothers Grimm!


In Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm are particularly venerated - not only for the fairy tales they wrote but also for their incredible contribution to today's German language and their patriotic spirit. This attachment is so strong that the places where the Brothers lived now form the Fairy Tale Route, a path through West and Central Germany that touches everywhere they went and stopped, Marburg included.


Marburg University is where the Brothers, born in Hanau and raised between Steinau and Kassel, studied from 1802 to 1805 (Jacob) and from 1803 to 1806 (Wilhelm). They were not too fond of the city because those were not easy years for them; at the time choosing high studies was not a smooth path for those who, like the Grimms, were born into poverty. Discrimination was normal and life conditions not accommodating, and yet, it was in that very period that the two brothers developed their ideas for the books they would write and their love for Germany's romantic and glorious past.


Today, Marburg remembers its notable guests and alumni in many ways and there are a few interesting things you can check:


1. The "Grimm-Dich-Pfad" Statues


Have you noticed Frog Prince at Wassersheide? And that Cinderella's shoe on the hillside below the Castle? These are two examples of a very nice project Marburg carried out in the last 15 years and that installed some 10+ statues of iconic characters or objects coming right from the Grimms' most famous tales in the city.


The best way to discover them is to just stroll around the Altstadt! You can also check them here, where you will find more info and the tales' texts (in German) and here you can find a map to check them all.



At Barfüßerstraße 35 you can see where Jacob Grimm used to live in the years 1802-05. He did not occupy the entire house though, he only rented a small room and carried on not without some financial constraints. He was joined by his brother Wilhelm the next year, but both suffered from the poor conditions of this neighbourhood at the time.


The house is beautifully half-timbered and is said to be more than 400 years old. Today, the bad shape of Grimm's era is gone and the house greets you with its fresh-restored façade and structure. In between, this place sadly hosted a Nazi criminal fugitive from 1946 to 1947.



Right beside Jacob's house is Wendelgasse and we have mentioned it before - this staircase is steep but an unmissable opportunity for a medieval-vibes-bath! This is also the likely way Jacob and Wilhelm chose to reach the university facilities where they studied or their professors' homes.


A famous Jacob's quote would be that Marburg has more stairs than streets - a clear sign that he must have struggled like we visitors do to make his way around Marburg. Today, we know it is definitely worth it but Jacob must have been more prone to negativity (he did not like the city as it appeared 200+ years ago). And yet, it was Marburg that inspired him and his brother to pursue German studies and write their tales!




 



Marburg: Eat and Explore



1. LOCAL CUISINE AND WHERE TO EAT


Marburg is a university town so interregional and international exchange is the norm! However, the area is also strong on local alternatives of national cuisine more than having a local offer and dining here is a good opportunity to have a taste of Hassian-influenced German specialities!


Apples and potatoes are among the most popular ingredients, then cream cheese, herbs and legumes. Herbs are also used to produce a famous liqueur which origins are Marburger: the Marburger Nachtwächter (find the official shop at Barfüßerstraße 2), and beer is another must with some good local breweries around.


If you have time and wish to have a try on this twisty fusion side of Germany, here are some suggestions:


Das Kleine Restaurant €€€€ - German cuisine with international influences

Weinlädele €€ - Wine tasting and German cuisine

Spiegelslustturm €€ - Café and restaurant with a view

Cafe Barfuß € - Café service and German cuisine, at a step distance from Jacob Grimm's house

Cafe 1900 €€ - German cuisine with Italian vibes at the heart of the Altstadt

Klingelhöfer €€ - Popular bakery and patisserie with cafeteria service in cozy atmosphere



Marburg during Christmas season | Image Credits: Unsplash
Marburg during Christmas season | Image Credits: Unsplash


2. FESTIVALS AND CHRISTMAS MARKET


Marburg Christmas Market (Weinachtsmarkt)

The Christmas market in Marburg takes place in two locations: at Marktplatz, the main square in the Old Town, and in front of Elisabethkirche, at the doors of the city center.


If in Marburg between late November and late December (2023 was 1-23 December), you will find the Christmas market and deciding to be there is not an option - since both locations are the most popular city's sites, you will happen there!


Voyager Festival

A popular electronic dance event taking place in Marburg in July. You can find more info on the official website here.




 



Marburg: What's Next



1. THE FAIRY TALE ROUTE


The most convenient next step of your journey can be the Fairy Tale Route or Deutsche Märchenstraße, a path travellers can take if they wish to follow in the footsteps of the Brothers Grimm.


The route starts in Hanau, the hometown of the Grimms when they were born in 1785 and 1786. It continues in Steinau, Rotenburg, Kassel, Göttingen, Bremen and ends in Buxtehude, for a total of 600km / 372mi. It includes all places, from medium-sized cities to tiny villages, where the two brothers either lived, studied or worked. Sometimes the stops correspond to sites where the most popular fairy tales took place or that inspired them.


Being you a fan of the Grimms and their tales or not, if you liked Marburg with its castle and half-timbered houses and have plans to stay in the area a bit longer, this route is definitely where you should look to find your next stop!


Here is a map with every single stop of the route (credits: official website of the Fairy Tale Route), enjoy!


Map of the Fairy Tale Route




 


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